Old Man of Hoy
Significance: The Old Man is the tallest sea stack in Britain, 137 m high

The great tower of the Old Man of Hoy has vertical or overhanging walls. The stack is separated from the adjacent cliffs by a 60m wide chasm. The base of the pinnacle, like the adjacent cliffs of St John’s Head, rests upon a pedestal of dark basalt lava above which horizontal beds of red and yellow sandstones rise. The alternating beds of relatively soft, sandy and pebbly sandstone with occasional beds of harder grey flagstone, give the Old Man a blocky, notched and often overhung profile. The base of the Old Man rises from a shore platform which is littered with blocks derived from collapse of a former arch.

The Old Man is a geological juvenile, probably less 400 years old and perhaps soon to collapse (Evans and Hansom, 1995). There is no mention of this striking feature in the Orkneyinga sagas. On the Bleau map of around 1600, the Old Man is not represented and presumably not yet formed and a headland exists with the fort of Braburgh on the point. Similarly, the McKenzie map of Hoy in 1750 shows a headland but no stack. By 1819, when the landscape painter William Daniell visited Hoy and sketched the site, the headland had been eroded into a stack and arch with the twin legs that gave The Old Man its name (Daniell, 1821). Early in the 19th century, a severe storm washed away one of the legs (Miller, 1976). Erosion continues today and by 1992, a 40m crack had opened up in the top of the south face to leave a large overhanging block that will eventually collapse.

Jim Hansom

Key Geomorphological Sites

  • Significance: a coastline noted for its Devonian geology and coastal geomorphology

  • Significance: this bay lies adjacent to Skara Brae and provides evidence of the interaction between coastal processes and human disturbance between 6600 and 4400 radiocarbon years ago. The settlement first re-emerged from the dunes after a storm in 1850.

  • Significance: this site provides evidence for changing ice-flow conditions during the last ice sheet glaciation

  • Significance: the construction of the Churchill Barriers started in 1940 and led to a fundamental change in the pattern of tidal flow around Scapa Flow. A range of coastal landforms have been created subsequently which illustrate the fundamental control of coastal configuration on the transport and deposition of sand.

  • Significance: Rackwick lies at the southern end of two major glacial breaches on Hoy. Its well-developed moraines indicate that at the close of the last glaciation two lobes of ice retreated northwards at a time when the Pentland Firth was probably still occupied by ice.

  • Significance: The Old Man is the tallest sea stack in Britain, 137 m high

  • Significance: a superb corrie formed at an unusually low elevation that was last occupied by a small glacier only 11,000 years ago

  • Significance: Ward Hill provides examples of a range of active and fossil periglacial landforms. As the highest point on Orkney it also provides evidence of the thickness of the last ice sheet

  • Significance: the site of a former small corrie glacier on Hoy

  • Significance: the site of a small corrie glacier during the Loch Lomond Stadial

  • Significance: a raised beach deposit at 6-12 m asl buried by till

  • Significance: a possible Scandinavian erratic on Orkney.

  • Significance: a peat deposit with willow boles formed 6500 years ago and now lying below sea level

  • Significance: the Kilns of Brin-Novan is an excellent example of an interconnected series of caves, arches and blow-holes which illustrate the sequential development of these features.

  • Significance: this coastal section provides perhaps the best available exposure of the shelly till which is characteristic of the eastern part of Orkney

  • Significance: exceptional cliff scenery and dramatic cliff-top storm deposits